This generation can write history!

Robert Lennon lifts the trophy after Bennettsbridge won the Leinster junior hurling club championship. The Bridge will contest the All-Ireland final in Croke Park this weekend - the chance of a lifetime, according to their manager Christy Walsh.
It was inevitable that the ‘David and Goliath’ analogy would be mentioned, and sure why not?

It was inevitable that the ‘David and Goliath’ analogy would be mentioned, and sure why not?

After all, Kilkenny’s famous Bennettsbridge won a meaty 12 senior hurling championships in a recognised hurling stronghold. Great names abound - Treacy, Skehan, Cleere, Moran, McGovern, Kelly, Kennedy, Carroll et al.

Fullen Gaels! Who, you might well ask?

Yes, indeed! A small English club founded in 2005, with a registered membership of 50, fifteen female, apparently.

Yet they are winners - London Ronan Cup (2006); Warwickshire senior championship and all Britain junior champs (2010 to 2013) and Lancashire senior and all Britain champions 2014.

Sunday’s All-Ireland club junior hurling final in Croke Park throws the battling Gaels into among the savage Cats for the second time in three years. The Gaels lost the 2013 decider to Thomastown, a tie that threw up an impressive scoreline of 2-17 to 2-14.

“We are not going to Croke Park for a day out,” insisted Fullen Gales manager, Stan Murray Heshion.

“Look, it’s a contest of David and Goliath proportions, and we know where we stand in the equation. We are in the final. We are happy to be there.

“The most important thing is that don’t disgrace ourselves. I don’t think we will.”

The Gaels blew up a fair storm against Thomastown on their last visit to GAA headquarters, when Murray Heshion and his sideline crew drew ever last ounce out of their players.

One’s memory of that final was how well the Gaels mentors knew their players and game, and how they made maximum use of the talent at their disposal. The ’Bridge have been warned.

Of course, in these times of mass emigration it is almost inevitable that there would be a Kilkenny connection in the English camp.

The Kilkenny contingent there are Patrick Duggan (Carrickshock), Tom Corcoran (Galmoy) and Brendan Griffith (Conahy Shamrocks).

Other counties represented in the squad are Waterford, Wexford, Antrim, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Clare and Donegal.

“We have representation from all corners of Ireland,” joked the manager, who has been in England almost 20 years.

The ’Bridge, forever recognised as one of the county’s greatest clubs even if they have tumbled down the rankings, won the Kilkenny junior final last year at the third time of asking.

Since, it has been an easy enough trek, although the recent All-Ireland semi-final win over Annaghdown (Galway) was a decent enough muscle flexer.

“Playing in an All-Ireland final in February is not a bad thing to be doing,” suggested Bennettsbridge manager, Christy Walsh, who reported a fully fit crew for a match that has really grabbed the imagination of locals.

“The important thing for us was winning the Kilkenny junior championship. Everything else flowed from that, but winning an All-Ireland would be nice. The players are really looking forward to what should be a great occasion.”

Things in the ’Bridge camp have been fluid of late with players involved in colleges competitions, exams and so on. The prospect of their colours being on display in Croke Park is massive for a community that is acutely aware its place in the hurling order of things.

“We weren’t great in the first half of the semi-final, although we playing against a strong breeze and Annaghdown were strong,” Mr Walsh reminded.

“We got on top in the second half and their puck-outs weren’t great against the wind and we won all the breaks, which we didn’t do in the first half. Anyway, we won and ran up a good score.

“The players showed how they could play when in full flight. Finals are all about winning. Croke Park I am sure is not a nice place to come out of if you are beaten.

“This is a big chance for the players. We had three players in Croke Park last year as minors with Kilkenny. Others have played there too. It is a chance of a lifetime, really.

“The opposition played Thomastown in the final before, and they were only three points behind at the finish. They have been winning consistently, which is no bad habit to have.”

Stan Murray Heshion explained that the bad weather in England recently threw out their preparations, but they weren’t looking for excuses. The players were hugely committed, and on average they would travel a 65 to 70 mile round trip for training.

“The club and hurling are a great social outlet for everyone,” he insisted. “Back home you have your friends and everyone around you and there are more distractions. Here, the people you are hurling with tend to be your friends

“It is a bit of a miracle of a club to be contesting a second All-Ireland in three years,” he laughed. “But there is great passion in the club. Lads are over here not by choice. That sort of pulls them together.

“We have a very different team to two years ago, or even last year. From the starting 15 three years ago, we have four survivors. This club is about lads coming and going.

“That is the hardest part. It is a transitional club. Lads come for a short while and then they are gone. We don’t get any lifers, let’s put it that way.”

This is Stan’s fifth year as manager, and despite the serious difficulties of pulling a team together, he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

“We come with virtually a new team every year,” he continued. “It is a great testament to the foundations of the clubs that things survive as they do. There are a few stalwarts here who make sure things tick over, irrespective of who comes in or goes out.

“Every match is virtually an away match for us. You want your head read if you are involved over here, but it can be fun. Coming out of Britain was the first thing we had to do to get into the All-Ireland series.

“We probably caught the Munster champions on the hop. We played Castleblaney in the semi-final. They hadn’t played a competitive match since October. They were on the backfoot from the outset after we got off to a good start. We pushed on well.

“Bennettsbridge are supposed to be very good,” he said, half as a fact, half in search of information. “The Kilkenny junior champs could play senior in most counties. I don’t know anything about them. We concentrate on our own team, and deal with what happens on the day.

“They have to be hot favourites. They are the Kilkenny champions, which is a massive thing. They are Leinster champions. These guys are used to playing at a ferociously high level.

“The pressure is on them. There is no pressure on us. It is a free day for us. We will turn up and see how we get on.”

The current Bennettsbridge generation of hurlers is as good as they have had in decades. But they should remember - titles decide greatness!